Ways of analyzing: form, content, background

(1) : orderly method of arrangement (as in the presentation of ideas) : manner of coordinating elements (as of an artistic production or course of reasoning)

(2) : a particular kind or instance of such arrangement <the sonnet is a poetical form>

b : PATTERN, SCHEMA <arguments of the same logical form>

c : the structural element, plan, or design of a work of art --  visible and measurable unit defined by a contour : a bounded surface or volume

(3) The literal shape and mass of an object or figure.

(4) More general, the materials used to make a work of art, the ways in which these materials are used utilized in terms of the formal elements (medium, texture, rhythm, tempo, dynamic contrast, melody, line, light/contrast/value structure, color, texture, size and composition.)


formal analysis
Is the analysis of a work by discussing its form such as its medium, shape, lines, light, color, texture and composition.

Design of Things in Composition or asym.met.ric adj [Gk asymmetria lack of proportion, fr. asymmetros ill-proportioned, fr. a- + symmetros symmetrical] (1690) 1: not symmetrical 2 usu asymmetric, of a carbon atom: bonded to four different atoms or groups -- adv -- n n, pl -tries [L symmetria, fr. Gk, fr. symmetros symmetrical, fr. syn- + metron measure--more at measure] (1541) 1: balanced proportions; also: beauty of form arising from balanced proportions 2: the property of being symmetrical; esp: correspondence in size, shape, and relative position of parts on opposite sides of a dividing line or median plane or about a center or axis--compare bilateral symmetry, radial symmetry 3: a rigid motion of a geometric figure that determines a one-to-one mapping onto itself 4: the property of remaining invariant under certain changes (as of orientation in space, of the sign of the electric charge, of parity, or of the direction of time flow)--used of physical phenomena and of equations describing them

bilateral symmetry n (1860): symmetry in which similar anatomical parts are arranged on opposite sides of a median axis so that only one plane can divide the individual into essentially identical halves

Contemporary Whirling Logs
radial symmetry n (ca. 1890): the condition of having similar parts regularly arranged around a central axis -- radially symmetrical adj 


space,  picture plane, and overlapping


Etymology: Medieval Latin iconographia, from Greek eikonographia sketch, description, from eikonographein to describe, from eikon- + graphein to write -- more at CARVE
Date: 1678
1 : pictorial material relating to or illustrating a subject
2 : the traditional or conventional images or symbols associated with a subject and especially a religious or legendary subject
3 : the imagery or symbolism of a work of art, an artist, or a body of art

Some scholars such as Marilyn Stokstad refers to this as content.  According to Stokstad book Art History:

"Content includes subject matter, which is quite simply is what is represented, even when that consists strictly of lines and formal elements-lines and color without recognizable subject matter, for example."

"The study of the "what" of subject matter is iconography.  Iconology has come to mean the study of the "why" of subject matter."

An iconographic analysis is the analysis of the symbols and what they mean in the work, or what the work itself symbolizes.

Feathers, depicted in many, many ways, are symbols of prayers, marks of honor or sources of ideas.  They represent the Creative Force, and are taken from birds connected with the attribute for which they might be utilized: goose flight feathers to fledge an arrow because of the long flights of the geese; Eagle feathers for honor or to connect the user with the Creator, Turkey feathers to decorate a kachina mask. As design elements, they mau appear plain, banded, barred, or decorated.
Pahos or Prayer Sticks, are carefully notched and painted cottonwood or cedar sticks with specific feathers attached to catch the wind.  They are planted in the ground at religious sites, and at springs to carry specific prayers to the Creator or to the Kachinas.  Their forms are found in many Pueblo and Navajo designs.



Contemporary Whirling Logs
Navajo Yeii Spirit, is a depiction of a irit considered by the Navajo to be a go-between between man and the creator.  Yeiis control natural forces in and on the earth, such as day and night, rain, wind, sun, etc.  A very special kind of yeii is the Yei'bi'chai, grandparent spirit or "talking God" who can speak with man, telling him how to live in harmony with all living things by following a few rules of behavior and using only the basic things he needs to survive.  A symbol of the harmony acheived is the "Rainbow Man", a yeii controlling the rainbow, who gives beauty to those in harmony.


Painting from a Kiva in the Kuana Pueblo Bonito c1300-1500 CE
fresco painting still in situ
SW. United States.


Etymology: Middle English, weaving together of words, from Latin contextus connection of words, coherence, from contexere to weave
 together, from com- + texere to weave

1 : the parts of a discourse that surround a word or passage and can throw light on its meaning

 2 : the interrelated conditions in which something exists or occurs : ENVIRONMENT, SETTING

contextual analysis
Is the analysis of a work by discussing its history, culture, environment, and or background.
Roughly close to conclusion in music.

contextualism A methodological approach in art history which focuses on the cultural back ground of an art object.  Unlike connoirsseurship, contexualism utilizes the literature, history, economics, and social developments (among others) of a period, as well as the object itself, to explain the meaning of an artwork.

The Southwestern United States
Anasazi 550-1400 CE
  • Anasazi is a Navajo word meaning "ancient people who are not us," or "enemy ancestors"
  • Ernst Gombrich's theory- schema and the correction.
  • circa
  • BC=BCE (Before Common Era- backward)
  • AD=CE (Common Era- forward)


Keet Seel ruins in Navajo National Monument, Arizona.

The ruins in-situ.

Ruins at Montezuma Castle National Monument, Arizona
circa 1100 CE
Aerial view of Pueblo Bonito from the north. 
[Copyright David L. Grill]


Petroglyph near the top of Fajada Butte. It is 24 cm by 36 cm and located about 10 m west of the three slab Sun Dagger site (see Sofaer et al. 1979). A, B, C & D indicate features of Pueblo Bonito, shown in the ground plan below.

Figure 1b

Figure lb) Ground plan of Pueblo Bonito. A: East-west oriented wall. B: North-south oriented wall. C: semicircular outline of the building. D: Kiva A. [(c) The Solstice Project, 1995.]

Note: The petroglyph is artificially emphasized because of its inherent low contrast.


Anasazi Pueblo Bonito, 850-1145.
Chaco Canyon, NM

Chetro Kiva, Chaco Canyon New Mexico
This is the original floor plan illustrating both Chetro Ketl I and II. 
Solid areas more recent occupation known as Chetro Ketl I
Hatched areas represent the oldest version of the Great Kiva, Chetro Ketl II,
A, outer wall, ChetroKetl I; 
B, bench Chetro Ketl I; 
C, late veneer over bench face; 
D, fill over wall of Chetro Ketl II; 
E, bench, Chetro Ketl II; F, seating pits; 
G,antechamber area; 
L, vaults, dotted areas show openings in walls of lower vaults; 
M, firebox; 
N, fire screens; 
R, masonry "altar";
T, antechamber wall; 
U, peripheral rooms. 

(from The Great Kivas of Chaco Canyon, by Gordon Vivian and Paul Reiter, 1960. School of American Research, Santa
Fe, NM). 

Kiva painting from Kuana Pueblo Bonito 1300-1500

 Kiva painting from Kuana Pueblo Bonito 1300-1500 Anasazi Culture

Border Patterns are used by weavers and silversmiths to establish boundaries and as designs in their own right.  The Hopi silversmiths, especially, have made great use of these foreground/background patterns in their overly jewelry. Many of the recurring spirals and whorls are connected with beansprouts, life springing out, cycles of life, and eternal renewal.  We call this one "Greek key".
Border Pattern, Spirals, whirlwinds, renewal, water
Border Pattern, kiva steps, or Clouds, direction and change
Border Pattern, Waves, spirals, water and cycles, life and renewal

Anasazi Culture
Seed Jar circa 1250 CE
8" tall

Anasazi Pottery1125-1200 CE From Arizona, ceramic, paint, iron oxide, burnishedapprox. 13" tall